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Iraq, BP and the British Museum – look upon these works and hang our heads in shame

Iraq, BP and the British Museum – look upon these works and hang our heads in shame

Action at British Museum to oppose BP’s sponsorship – on the steps of the portico (Credit Safa Kadhim)

I had learn in advance the briefing that Culture Unstained had put out to accompany the planned motion. The protest at the British Museum was to be towards BP’s sponsorship of the exhibition ‘I am Ashurbanipal: king of the world, king of Assyria’, a display of treasures from the land of Iraq. I read strains in the assertion which described:

‘the large-scale contamination in the Province of Basra’s water supplies, with about 100,000 residents … estimated to have been taken ailing after consuming polluted water in the summer time of 2018… Chemical and bacterial contamination of Basra’s water has been discovered to be extraordinarily excessive and salinity is greater than 20 occasions the really helpful degree. This was certainly one of the triggers for the mass protests (in August 2018) – dubbed by some as the “water uprising”.’

How ignorant I felt. I had no information of the appalling circumstances in the southern Iraqi city that, of all places, ought to be benefiting from the oil that Iraq pumps every day – 4.6 million barrels, the world’s fourth largest producer. I had not observed that there were weekly protests towards the overseas oil firms comparable to BP. I read the phrases of photograph journalist Khaled Tawfiq Hadi:

“In Basra, all the wars weren’t enough for us to die in them. Now, even the taps kill us, the very taps that are the sources of the water in our houses”

How ashamed I felt, by the sense that, like so many, I had turned away from Iraq. A rustic that had been central to the attention of companions at Platform for a decade (notably Greg Muttit and Ewa Jasiewicz), had dropped out of my view in the last five years. I felt sickened that the UK and its firms have been now, 16 years after the invasion of Iraq, concerned in relentless useful resource extraction alongside cruel immiseration.

Terry Adams – BP senior government and then UK Overseas Office marketing consultant on Iraqi oil insurance policies and contracts 2004-05

Shame turned to anger. How can it’s that lots of the architects of the destruction of Iraq now chill out in absolute security, immense wealth, and in the snug help of buddies and friends? For that is the life at this time, in February 2019, of the men who deliberate and oversaw the warfare and the subsequent plunder of Iraq’s wealth: of Tony Blair, of Lord John Browne (head on BP during the Iraq Warfare), of the Rev Sir Philip Watts (former head of Shell 2001-04), of Terry Adams (ex BP and then UK Overseas Workplace advisor on Iraqi oil policies and contracts 2004-05), of Tony Hayward (Head of BP Exploration and BP CEO 2003-10) and of Bob Dudley (present CEO of BP)? The listing goes on. An array of millionaires.

Tony Hayward – Head of BP Exploration and then BP CEO 2003-10

In my anger I imagined what it might be wish to accompany these men, not round the galleries of the British Museum to gaze upon the works of the Assyrians, but round the streets of Basra. That we too would see the polluted waterways. That we too would witness the rage in the Friday protests. These ruined cities, these oil pipelines draining the assets of Iraq, are their works. These are the works of BP, of the UK Government, and in the shame of our averted eyes, us British citizens.


With a head filled with ideas, I joined the large queue outdoors the British Museum on the morning of Saturday 16th February. People, Chinese language, Italians … individuals coming from throughout the world to view our imperial loot. The British Museum, an engine of the British financial system. An financial system dwelling off previous theft, the theft of the previous, a sort of necro-economy. An financial system dependent upon vacationers ferried in on one million aeroplanes. The stench of jet gasoline.

Such was the queue I came into the Great Courtroom of the museum from the back entrance thirty minutes late. There was not an activist to be seen. But to my aid the air was full of the sound of the protest. I might hear voices chanting in denouncement, like the roar of an excellent wave. It set my heart quickening. I might feel the demonstration in my stomach before I saw it. As I walked around the curve of the Rotunda, strains and strains of individuals dressed in black got here into view. They confronted two audio system, Danny Chivers, of BP or not BP? and Ibtehal Hussain, of Campaign Towards Arms Trade, whose heads have been just visible above the crowd, holding excessive in the air a transportable sound system. Ibethal learn from Khaled Tawfiq Hadi:

“Our dreams are repeated frequently because as soon as we enter into a dream we are quickly pulled out of it as no hour passes without the sound of falling tears nearby. I have yet to find someone in Basra who has completed his dream all at once.”

Straining to be heard, Danny and Ibethal have been virtually misplaced in the huge area of the Courtroom amidst the constant rumble of shuffling ft and dialog. Unable to listen to the speeches, it seemed to me that their voices came from a far distance, from one other land, one other time.

The strains of protestors, in orderly ranks, have been like mourners for the lifeless. There was a sombre seriousness about the gathering. This was not an act, not a pose of discontent, but slightly an indication. An indication of a view of history held by a terrific mass of individuals across this nation and far beyond. An indication of affected person rage.

“We are here because it is inexcusable for a public museum to be promoting a fossil fuel company in the midst of a climate crisis”

“We are here because sixteen years ago the largest mobilisation of people across the world took place to protest the Iraq War”

The yellow vested British Museum employees seemed on in bemusement, chatting in pairs, whispering into walkie-talkies. That they had a right to be baffled, for something new was happening before their eyes.

There have been many right here in their early 20s. They should have been youngsters when at 02.30 am on the 20th March 2003, forty cruise missiles fired from US warships in the Purple Sea and the Persian Gulf began the attack on Baghdad and reopened the Iraqi oil business to overseas capital after forty years of closure. Alongside them there have been many grey haired ladies and males who had certainly joined the million robust London march in February 2003. Right here, as then, several generations have been in motion. The demonstration at the Museum got here the day after the Climate Change Faculty Strikes, and in the midst of Extinction Riot. There was a feeling of a rising motion, a new wave, combining opposition to conflict and colonialism with the wrestle towards the oil firms and local weather change.

As the figures in black chanted:

“No War No Warming”


Motion at the British Museum – the tapestry around the Rotunda (Credit Diana More)

The shining white marble flooring of the Great Courtroom was all of a sudden revealed as the strains of black dispersed in totally different directions. All of these attending the protest have been invited to participate. This was a demotic action in a demotic area, this was extra ‘community theatre’ than ‘performance art’. The 350 demonstrators stood one after the different surrounding the Rotunda. Towards the sound of digital camera shutters clicking, they sang:

“We’re the individuals rising

When oil burns and armies develop

You stole our past and future

It’s time for you to go, go, go,

It’s time so that you can go!”

Of their arms they held a 200-meter lengthy ‘living tapestry’ whose white letters on a black background learn:


















The long line of figures carried echoes of past resistance. The Ladies in Black who bore witness to the Yugoslav Civil Struggle, demonstrating in London by the Edith Cavell Monument next to Trafalgar Sq. (an action that continues to this present day). The Greenham Ladies who ‘Embraced the Base’ in 1982. As at Greenham, this was not a tightly controlled efficiency and there was area for the unscripted motion. A well-dressed lady in her fifties held up a bit of cardboard on which she had hand-written:

‘My history looted by ISIS and auctioned by Christies’


Tara Mariwany and Yasmin Younis tackle the crowd (credit score Diana More)

After perhaps an hour the action of surrounding the Rotunda got here to an finish. The chain of protestors uncoiled from the circle and recoiled itself in one nook of the Nice Courtroom. From the midst of this seated crowd rose three  Iraqis, who voiced their truths in flip. During the warfare and its aftermath we so not often heard the words of the individuals of Iraq, especially in the prolonged wrestle over access to the oil. Their voices have been drowned out by the cacophony of western politicians and consultants. Right here, at the heart of the British Museum, area was being made by the demonstration.

Zeena Yasin spoke: “I am going to share a personal story that is a direct legacy of the invasion of Iraq. During the bombing of Mosul against ISIS, which is a direct consequence of the western invasion of Iraq – the husband of my auntie wanted to aid his neighbours. His wife begged him not to, worrying for his safety. Because of his bravery, strength and chivalry, he went in an attempt to save his relatives. Alas, the house he went to was bombed and he was one of the casualties. Because of the destruction of infrastructure and transport, she could not get him to the hospital in time. It was not safe enough to get a taxi or get on a bus. She pushed him on a pushchair for hours and he succumbed to his injuries on the way. Allah yaharmu (Allah bless his soul)”

As each speaker took the moveable microphone a banner was held in entrance of the crowd which read:

‘Iraq is THE big oil prospect. BP are desperate to get in there’ – Overseas Office official November 2002

These have been the strains from a memo, which by way of insane willpower, Greg Muttitt extracted from Whitehall. They have been words typed by an official (identify redacted) after a meeting with a BP group led by Richard Paniguian (later Sir Richard). That November, while the world felt the invasion of Iraq remained in the stability and three months before the mass demonstration towards the struggle, Paniguian’s staff made it clear that BP regarded Iraq as ‘vitally important – more important than anything we’ve seen for a very long time.’ Paniguian labored for BP of 37 years, helping the company break into the oilfields of Angola, Azerbaijan, Russia, Egypt, Libya and Iraq. On retiring from BP he turned head of the UK’s Department for Trade & Business defence gross sales staff. Paniguian handed away in 2017. Certainly he was a Master of Conflict, a father of the ceaseless violence that has rained down on Iraq in these last many years.

Sir Richard Paniguian with the Prince of Wales receiving his knighthood in 2015

Yasmin Younis spoke: “As a member of the Iraqi diaspora and the child of Iraqi immigrants, being Iraqi has been one of the most influential aspects of my life. But growing up during and living in a post-Iraq War era, the war’s destruction extends beyond the Iraqi border. The most formative years of my life were filled with self-hatred and self-doubt as the world turned against my people and “Iraq” turned synonymous with “war” and “violence.” Every time I attempted to study my historical past or my tradition outdoors of intimate familial settings, my searches have been restricted to violence, warfare, and casualty.”

Together with her voice cracking she continued:

“When I saw there would be a special exhibition on my culture and my history, I was ecstatic because for once, my culture’s beauty would be celebrated, but finding out the sponsor was BP was a massive slap in the face. These are the very same sponsors who advocated for the war, which destroyed my homeland and slaughtered my people all in the name of oil. To BP and the British Museum, I say how DARE you use my culture and my history as an attempt to hide your colonialist skeletons. Not my culture, not my country. No war, no warming!”

The Rumaila area, to the west of Basra, is the largest oil undertaking presently operating in Iraq. It’s an Elephant Area, discovered by a BP subsidiary in 1953, the third largest in the world, and the backbone of Iraq’s exports. In 2018 it accounted for 40% of the nation’s oil gross sales, and contributed round 30% of the complete price range of Iraq. It’s now operated by BP, in partnership with the Chinese language state multinational PetroChina. It provides these firms a massively powerful stake in the Iraqi financial system and thus its political future. Energy in Iraq was as soon as in the palms of Saddam Hussein and his circle, now it’s in the palms of quite a few overseas enterprise executives and government ministers.

BP’s capacity to attract profit from Rumaila is a direct consequence of Paniguian’s lobbying the British Overseas Secretary, Jack Straw, by way of his officers, and a direct consequence of the forty cruise missiles that rained hell down on Baghdad in March 2003. Additionally it is the consequence of BP’s relentless pressuring of the post-Struggle Iraqi regimes – which was so exhaustively documented in Greg Muttitt’s guide ‘Fuel on the Fire’ – as they strove to safe rights over these ‘vitally important’ oil fields. Central to their campaign to get hold of Rumaila was Michael Townshend, Regional President BP Iraq 2009-13, presently head of BP Center East, who had beforehand overseen the constructing of the infamous BTC pipeline from Azerbaijan to the Mediterranean. Townshend was an architect of the Rumaila venture and now the individuals of southern Iraq need to stay with the penalties of his plan.

Michael Townshend, Regional President BP Iraq 2009-13, at present head of BP Middle East

Tara Mariwany spoke:

“We’ve all heard the argument that the 2003 invasion would deliver democracy, stability, and peace to the individuals of Iraq. But, the current state of affairs exhibits, the invasion and subsequent occupation has solely been in the interest of corrupt politicians, overseas governments, and oil corporations like BP – all of this at the very expense of Iraqis…

At the moment, oil-rich areas are one in every of the most disadvantaged in the nation. More than 80% of Iraq’s complete GDP comes from the ports round Basra. Yet 50% of Basrawis reside under the poverty line…While oil revenues account for 88.eight% of complete revenues, just one% of jobs in the oil sector go to Iraqis.”

Crammed with fury she continued: “In Basra, day by day protests have been staged since summer time 2018 on account of rising frustrations at the corrupt leadership and overseas corporations which are draining the country’s huge assets unhindered, to the detriment of the individuals. Local government workplaces have been stormed, and entry to key oilfields have been blocked off by protestors – and in retaliation, clashes with government forces killed 20 individuals, injured 492, and another 425 have been arrested for collaborating, in only one single month. Hussam Abdel Ameer, 25 years previous, and an unemployed university graduate from Basra stated:

“We want jobs, we want to drink clean water, and electricity. We want to be treated like human beings and not animals.”

She refers to the technique utilized by BP to extract oil as fast as potential from Rumaila, by injecting water deep into the rocks beneath the desert in order that it maintains ‘well pressure’ and drives oil to the surface. It’s a method built into Townshend’s plan.

“As Iraqis are struggling to find water for their crops or feed their cattle with, the British Museum have partnered up with a company that is not only polluting waters with waste, but in 2016 and 2017 have injected over 720,000 barrels per day of water for their oil production.”

She rises to a crescendo and concludes:

“On this anniversary, it is up to us to remind the British Museum that we will not accept this sponsorship. We refuse to be complicit not only in the destruction of our planet, but the exploitation of a people and their land that have done nothing but demand to live their lives in dignity. As Iraqis continue to rise up, we too must demand the British Museum end their partnership with BP.”


Textual content by Bob Dudley, CEO of BP in the front of the British Museum’s exhibition catalogue

The words of Zeena, Yasmin and Tara stand in stark distinction to the Sponsor’s Foreword in the catalogue of the exhibition. Signed by Bob Dudley, Group Chief Government, BP it consists of the passage:

‘The important Iraqi Rumaila Field, which we helped to discover in the 1950s, is a great example of this (applying new technologies to historic resources.) We returned to the area in 2009 as the first international oil and gas company to invest in the country after conflict. Development of Rumaila has been extremely important for Iraq: it provides thousands of jobs for local people, and generates tens of billions of dollars in revenue every year for the country.’

An ‘application of new technologies’ seems like serene widespread sense. However by this he means corralling the scarce water of a desert land in order to boost oil production, and increase profit. ‘Providing thousands of jobs’ seems like the act of a fantastic paternalist employer. But 16 years ago 99% of all those employed in the country’s oil business have been Iraqi nationals. Now the highest paid jobs in Iraq’s oil sector go to overseas nationals. It is onerous to verify Dudley’s declare on employment but we will make certain that the wage differential between overseas staff and Iraqi’s is very large. That sudden inequality in the business is phenomenal. It seems like a return to the semi-colonial days before Iraq took management of its own assets in the 1960s and 70s. ‘Tens of billions of dollars in revenue’ feels like BP is the benefactor for the nation. However what of the billions of dollars in revenue that now go to BP and once went to the government of Iraq?

Dudley’s phrases describe how BP ‘returned to area’. It sounds virtually as if the company have been heading again to a well-remembered pub. In the thoughts of people who learn the catalogue foreword, this page serves to fade the simple proven fact that BP might only return to Rumaila on the back of a cataclysm of violence. And the British Museum, a terrific public establishment, a showcase of the nation to the world, allows this vanishing act via this sponsorship deal and the publishing of this foreword.


Ilaf Moslawy performing at the entrance to the British Museum (credit Safa Khadim)

On a signal the protestors once again type a line and, carrying the tapestry, snake out of the Nice Courtroom and organize themselves on the steps on the museum, earlier than the pillars of the portico. They sing and watch the Iraqi poet Ilaf Moslawy carry out:

“I’m BP.

How dare you query my activity?

I’m British Petroleum:

King of Exploitation,

King of Injustice”

The British Museum is a constructing that hopes to convey continuity and stability. It presents its cornucopia of treasures in a spirit of making an attempt to create trade between cultures, to assist peace even. And it welcome guests from throughout the world who crammed the queues I had joined, trying to be inclusive to all, as an essential institution inside a democratic culture.

The demonstrators of February 2003 have been advised that these three issues – stability, peace, democracy – can be delivered to the individuals of Iraq as a alternative to Saddam’s brutal regime. Yet none of them have come. That which was promised by our government and the firms has not been delivered. What has come are conflict and instability, poverty and pollution, and the income of the country’s assets are being drained away from the widespread wealth of Iraqis to the personal wealth of the authorities officers, company employees and corporate shareholders. Some tiny fragment of these stolen riches is syphoned back to the pension funds of British citizens and the advertising department of the British Museum.

I’m crammed with a want for justice. That people who designed and carried out this catastrophic destruction of a land and its peoples ought to be held to account. Maybe we might stand alongside Lord John Browne, Terry Adams, Tony Hayward, Bob Dudley, Michael Townshend and the ghost of Richard Paniguian. We might accompany them as they look at the 350 individuals gathered collectively on the steps of the British Museum. Probably these white men in their sixties and seventies, like Tony Blair, would haven’t any regret, however consider that each one their actions have been taken with the better of intentions. But we might stand beside them in the information that, on today at the very least, the consequence of their actions was not forgotten but revealed.

Might we take inspiration from the individuals of Iraq, who have stored up a unprecedented resistance, persevering in the face of unimaginable horror and oppression. Might we, in the midst of luxury, keep the similar degree of willpower.

Might there be many extra days like these.

Banner held up at the front of the Museum as the action closed (Credit score Safa Kadhim)


Because of Jess Value, Danny Chivers, Greg Muttitt, Paula Serafini, Chris Garrard, Ben Diss and Steve.

This weblog builds on the again of research being undertaken for the forthcoming e-book ‘Crude Britannia – How Big Oil shaped an nation’s previous and future’ Due out in 2020.

About the author

Tejas Sachdeva

Tejas Sachdeva

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